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Dark Tranquillity > Skydancer > 1999, CD, Century Media Records > Reviews > doomknocker
Dark Tranquillity - Skydancer & Of Chaos and Eternal Night

Brilliant, exhausting, wayward, overwhelming... - 70%

doomknocker, January 12th, 2015
Written based on this version: 1999, CD, Century Media Records

Before the glut of Gothenburg wannabes, before the "melodicore" bastardization, before the captains of stylistic industry turning high tail and selling out, there was "Skydancer". Before this little doozy came at us, there was really no concept of "melodic death metal". There was just "death metal", and despite its appeal it wasn't for everyone. It was even considered taboo in certain Nordic circles, where bands and musicians found shadow-dwelling corpse-painters sending death threats for even bothering to exist (just ask Euronymous back in the day...). But then, out of the blue, a group of Swedes decided to take the deathly approach, add in Maiden-esque guitar harmonies and folk melodies and, before they knew it, a new branch in the heavy metal tree was slowly growing...

As this was one of the first melodeath albums to come out, one can tell that both the album itself AND the style were works in progress. You could detect some serious black metal influence with this (the drumming, trem. picking, vocal style, atmosphere) versus a more legit death feel, which is rather understandable given the musical climate at the time in ye ol' Scandinavia. But that actually works well in "Skydancer's" favor, where the inherent melodies are more natural and cold in scope. The whole of the album has the ambient feel of a quick jaunt through a wintry wood sans the snow; bleak, dark, chilly and beautiful in its savagery and black cloud overhanging, where the band, as a whole, go about their respective instrumental wares like they were all aflame, with frantic performances and an almost inhuman level of tightness given how wild abandon it all is, as if not playing this fast and insane would lead to their demise. "Spirited" only gets halfway there as a description, and the more into it the listener gets the more tired they'd be trying to keep up. This is easily the musical equivalent of running a marathon, but appreciating every exhausting step until it all comes to a halt and you collapse under the weight of your fatigued legs. It may seem way too much to handle at first, but the pay-off is worth it. But it's not all mind-blowing speed; there are slower, more gentler moments and songs that cut through the hurricane of notes that, in their own right, are just as enjoyable, if a touch rough around the edges and almost sounding like restraints holding the immediacy at bay. These end up adding the most amount of atmosphere to the album, where one could sit a spell beside a deep forest bonfire to warm their bones for a little while before the chase resumes.

On a musical level, I cannot deny the sheer amount of inspiration that flowed from the band at this point in their career. Guitars (electric and acoustic) and bass stay in the respective key but forge paths all their own and only rarely coming together, more often playing off one another rather than with each other. Said guitar parts don't really fall into the power chord trappings for the most part and instead come at the listener from more than eight different directions, literally flying to and fro at high rapidity sometimes too fast to be noticed at first listen, and common song structures were cast asunder in the name of seeing just how much the listener can take in terms of instrumental bludgeoning and spitfire vocal calisthenics of myth and nature helped cultivate that 'forementioned atmosphere. I really couldn't keep count with how many harmonics and riffs just burst from each track after the seventh or so, only to find that I was merely halfway through a track, and each of those successive ideas sounded as grandiose as the ones preceding and following. Goodness me, it was almost too much to handle... But with all that said, the material as a whole doesn't really come off as cohesive compositions and more like off-the-cuff jam sessions the band threw together a day or so prior to recording. In a way it's grand in that nothing is forced or phoned-in; the level of energy in the performance itself speaks higher volumes than the material at hand, but the lack of serious cohesion and riffafterriffafterriffaterriff! arrangement schemes could very well lose the listener and thereby fade into the background. That's not what the work of legends is supposed to do, by gum!

All in all "Skydancer" was choking on potential and an influential nature, but it really felt like it was released before it was ready. Maybe an extra year or two on the burner could have done some real good, but I guess being able to essentially birth a sub-genre single-handedly is worth it in the end...